A software development tool is a computer program that software developers use to create, debug, maintain, or otherwise support other programs and applications. The term usually refers to relatively simple programs, that can be combined together to accomplish a task, much as one might use multiple hand tools to fix a physical object. The most basic tools are a source code editor and a compiler or interpreter, which are used everywhere and continuously. Other tools are used more or less depending on the language, development methodology, and individual engineer, and are often used for a discrete task, like a debugger or profiler. Tools may be discrete programs, executed separately – often from the command line – or may be parts of a single large program, called an Integrated Development Environment (IDE). In many cases, particularly for simpler use, simple ad hoc techniques are used instead of a tool, such as print debugging instead of using a debugger, manual timing (of overall program or section of code) instead of a profiler, or tracking bugs in a text file or spreadsheet instead of a bug tracking system.
Uses of Software Development Tools
- Translating from human to computer language
Modern computers are very complex and in order to productively program them, various abstractions are needed. For example, rather than writing down a program’s binary representation a programmer will write a program in a programming language like C, Java or Python. Programming tools like assemblers, compilers and linkers translate a program from a human writeable and readable source language into the bits and bytes that can be executed by a computer. Interpreters interpret the program on the fly to produce the desired behaviour.
- Making program information available for humans
Because of the high complexity of software, it is not possible to understand most programs at a single glance even for the most experienced software developer. The abstractions provided by high-level programming languages also make it harder to understand the connection between the source code written by a programmer and the actual program’s behaviour. In order to find bugs in programs and to prevent creating new bugs when extending a program, a software developer uses some programming tools to visualize all kinds of information about programs.
What is an IDE?
Integrated development environments combine the features of many tools into one package. They for example make it easier to do specific tasks, such as searching for content only in files in a particular project. IDEs may for example be used for development of enterprise-level applications.